Why should I care? but I do. I am talking about the future. I am talking about the distant future. I care about what the world will be like in 200 years. I care about humanity still prospering 2,000 years from now. When I say prospering, I do not mean rich or more plentiful, I just mean doing well. My life expectancy is only about a couple of years, I am an atheist, and I have no children, so I say once again, why should I care about things way into the future?
The answer for this cannot be reduced to one thing. The short answer is, I love beauty. I am in awe of a complexity that seems to continue without end. This complexity follows hard fast rules and mathematics. The more you learn about the universe, the more there is to learn. These are things that are worthy of awe. My long answer is a little bit messy. In it, I feel a need to understand why I like beauty, rather than that just being something that I proclaim. I feel like the answer to That entails all of the mechanisms that seduce individual humans towards working well together. These ingrained attributes are something that have made our species so successful.
The main intellectual skill that we humans have over the other animals, other than complex language of course, is the ability to think and care about things far beyond our immediate selves and surroundings. As the author and historian Yuval Noah Harari puts it, humans have the ability to care about fictional concepts such as corporations and countries. We also have the predisposition, or instinct if you will, to work towards the benefit of the pack, something that we would quickly go extinct without. Examples of these pack friendly desires would be empathy, love, patriotism (working to protect pack), and along with patriotism, the desire to follow and protect our tribal leaders. Other pack animals have a little of this too, but nobody does it quite like us. This only starts the answer as to why I should care. I love my pack. My pack is all humans (that’s my choice I suppose, but it feels right for me).
My continuing on forever is the idea, mostly subconscious, that my pack will continue on. I revel in my pack doing interesting things, and unlocking yet more secrets of the universe, whether I am there or not. I notice that other atheist have been drawn to take the long view also. If two people share the same mental picture of how he world works, it is likely that both of them will come up with the same conclusions. Carl Sagan, the famous, popular astrophysicist, was obsessed with the long view of the human species. The project that he felt warranted his attention was based on the following idea: We have been ‘us’ for more than 50,000 years. Though nuclear war is not too likely in our lifetimes, it is almost completely inevitable sometime in the next 2,000 years. That conclusion is just a simple matter of odds making. He was not too concerned about the balance of power and politics in the present. He was more concerned about the big picture. He desperately wanted all countries to limit the number of nuclear warheads on hand so that the human species would not be eradicated when the nearly inevitable conflict happens. If you have another focus on how things continue into eternity, this horror of the extinction of our species might get a little lost in the buzz. Most all humans are good, regardless of religious beliefs, and just about nobody wants the end of our species, but atheists have only one avenue towards eternity.
I love all forms of beauty, too, David, so we have a great deal in common in there. And I like your explanation of the long view. I want to incorporate that into my thinking about the end of my own life on earth.